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About this book

An established introductory textbook that provides students with an engaging overview of the complex developments in Eastern Europe from the end of the Second World War through to the present. Tracing the origins of the socialist experiment, de-Stalinisation, and the transition from socialism to capitalism, it explores the key events in each nation’s recent history.

This is an ideal core text for dedicated modules on Eastern European History or Europe since 1945 (including Central Europe and the Balkans) - or a supplementary text for broader modules on Modern European History or European Political History - which may be offered at all levels of an undergraduate History, Politics or European Studies degree. In addition it is a crucial resource for students who may be studying the recent history of Eastern Europe for the first time as part of a taught postgraduate degree in Modern European History, European Politics or European Studies.

Table of Contents

1. Revolution in Eastern Europe

Life in interwar Eastern Europe was unpleasant. Czechoslovakia was a democracy, but all the other states of Eastern Europe were governed by authoritarian regimes: Poland was a ‘directed democracy’; Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia were monarchical dictatorships; and Hungary was a monarchical dictatorship with a Regent rather than a King. As Hugh Seton-Watson, Britain’s leading interwar authority on Eastern Europe, commented, the ‘strong governments’ there were ‘no more than greedy, corrupt and brutal class regimes’.1 Popular opposition to those regimes, which Seton-Watson averred was widespread, was only patchily channelled into support for the communist parties. In Hungary the experience of the 1919 Soviet Revolution and its brutal suppression had marginalised the illegal communist party. In Poland and Romania support for the communists was severely hampered by the so-called anti-national stance of those parties: after the First World War both countries had acquired territory once part of the Tsarist Russian Empire and the Soviet Union insisted on the return of these territories throughout the interwar period, successfully recovering its Polish claim in September 1939 and its claim on Romania in June 1940; since the Polish and Romanian Communist Parties consistently argued in favour of the Soviet claims, it was easy for their political opponents to describe them as enemies of the existing nation state.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

2. Different Roads to Socialism

If in the Balkans communists came to power at the head of their own revolutions and, as it were, ‘sovietised’ themselves, elsewhere in Eastern Europe the role played by the Soviet Union in shaping the nature of post-war politics was far more important. However, prior to 1947 Stalin had no overall blueprint for expansion, nor a single uniform policy to be applied throughout the area. He operated, as before, via messages from Moscow and, having endorsed revolution in the Balkans, retained two policy options for the rest of Eastern Europe. In Poland and Romania Stalin intervened decisively to ensure the establishment of sympathetic regimes: these, after all, were the countries which had had territorial disputes with the Soviet Union throughout the interwar period, disputes which Stalin had solved in 1939 and 1940 and whose resolution he sought to make permanent. Here there was to be no pretence about coalition governments and communists not being interested in power; the communists were to have power and would if necessary be kept in power by the Red Army.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

3. An End to Diversity

In the spring of 1947 diversity rather than uniformity characterised Eastern Europe. The Balkan revolutions were an accomplished fact: Yugoslavia and Albania were further along the socialist road than Bulgaria, but that was largely because Bulgaria had been subject to Allied scrutiny. Romania and Poland had experienced revolutions at Soviet prompting, the Romanians responding with more enthusiasm to embarking on the road that their Balkan fellows were already following, while the Poles had, literally, experienced revolution at Soviet bayonet point. As to Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the one an honorary ally with a large communist party, the other a defeated power with a tiny communist party, Stalin seemed to have satisfied himself with influence rather than control: communist influence in the security services meant the communists there had more say than the communists in the French and Italian post-war governments. This situation was to change as the Cold War developed.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

4. 1956: Communism Renewed?

Between 1953 and 1956 the twin processes of de-Stalinisation and Soviet–Yugoslav rapprochement opened up the possibility of renewal for the communist states of Eastern Europe. With Khrushchev pressing the East European leaders to undo the injustices of the purge trials, and Tito urging them to adopt the Yugoslav system of workers’ councils, there were moments when it looked as if a very different style of communism might emerge. After Stalin’s Cominform purges, genuine reform in the political system of Eastern Europe was unlikely to occur, as it were, from within: it was the existence ‘outside’ of an alternative socialist system, coupled with the genuine desire of Khrushchev to bring Yugoslavia back into the family of socialist states, that made the prospect of renewal genuine. So long as Khrushchev wanted to bring Tito back into the fold, he was prepared to negotiate with him about the nature of socialism and the future of Eastern Europe. It was this unique circumstance which opened up the possibility of a reversal of Stalinist policies; the tragedy for those communists who espoused such a reformist vision was that, deep down, Tito was as committed as Khrushchev to the Leninist concept of the leading role of the Communist Party and, therefore, to a system which allowed power to be concentrated in the hands of an unelected bureaucratic caste.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

5. Actually Existing Socialism in Operation

The preceding chapters have documented how communist regimes came to power in Eastern Europe with varying degrees of domestic and Soviet support: motivations had been mixed. For the Soviet Union, despite a notional commitment to the long-term goal of world revolution, the primary concern had been geopolitical. For the local communists who engineered the revolutions there had been an ideological commitment to the socialist ideal nurtured during years of struggle against fascism. By 1958 this ideological commitment was all but moribund. Henceforth the nations of Eastern Europe were bound together not by a shared commitment to communism but by a military alliance and an international economic order, both dominated by the Soviet Union. Communism was no longer a liberation ideology, yet it continued profoundly to structure political, social and economic life, what gradually became known as ‘actually existing socialism’. During the next 30 years ‘actually existing socialism’ would prove its non-viability. Economic, social, and finally political forces engendered within it ultimately destroyed both the ideology and its military and economic structures. And the pattern of its decline and the nature of what replaced it are linked inextricably to the nature of ‘actually existing socialism’. ‘Actually existing socialism’ was not just another totalitarian regime. It was Marxist–Leninist. Its ideological underpinning was neither nationalist nor racist; indeed, in many ways, it was socially progressive.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

6. Reform Communism or Economic Reform

The 1960s, more precisely the years following 1956 until 1968, witnessed two major developments in the post-war history of Eastern Europe: the birth of economic reform and the beginnings of heterodoxy between the Warsaw Pact countries, as Stalinism was replaced by neo-Stalinism. Even as Khrushchev was promising a rosy future based on the superiority of the planned economy, serious doubts were being raised about how the planning mechanism should operate. Growth rates fell throughout the region: whereas, for the region as a whole, annual growth rates of net material produced had averaged 7.2 per cent between 1956 and 1960, for the next five-year period to 1965 their average rate was 5.5 per cent, with Czechoslovakia, the most industrialised country, falling from 7.0 per cent to 1.9 per cent.1 In response, the more advanced economies entered, or endeavoured to enter, an era of ‘intensive’ rather than ‘extensive’ economic development. They attempted to build economic growth on technological development and improved productivity rather than additional capital stock and pulling labour reserves into the economy.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

7. Neo-Stalinism Triumphant

In the ‘long decade’ of the Brezhnev doctrine, between successful ‘normalisation’ in Czechoslovakia and the accession to power in the Soviet Union of Mikhail Gorbachev, neo-Stalinism ruled triumphant. The Eastern European regimes were politically stable, secure beneath the Soviet umbrella. International acceptance of the ‘actually existing socialism’ world system was confirmed by the Helsinki Final Act of 1975: and the economies appeared to be sound and to have staved off the ‘oil-shock’ from which the rest of the world had suffered. Growth rates in the 1966–70 plan period had been good. Those for 1971–75 were even better, although the considerable trade deficit run up by the region with the West suggested caution.1 But then things started going wrong. An excess of ideological commitment and a failure to realise that acceptance by the Helsinki Final Act did not sanction the extension of ‘actually existing socialism’, even where it was, arguably, the outcome of domestic political forces, resulted in Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. International relations degenerated quickly into a second Cold War. More tellingly, from the end of the 1970s, the economies entered a period of decline.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

8. The Fall of Actually Existing Socialism

This chapter presents the collapse of the ancien régime in Eastern Europe, a process that would not have been possible without the role played by Mikhail Gorbachev. Not long after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Ferenc Fejto˝ wrote: ‘One may hope – certainly the people of Eastern Europe hope – that the next Dubcˇek will appear in the nerve centre of the system: Moscow.’1 In March 1985, the Moscow Dubček arrived. Almost as soon as he got to power, Gorbachev made clear that the era of imposing solutions on Eastern Europe was over, that the Soviet Union would no longer interfere in the internal affairs of its own satellites. It took time for this reality to dawn on the neo-Stalinist leaders of Eastern Europe, but Gorbachev’s decision in September 1988 to wind up the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee Department for Liaison with Communist and Workers’ Parties in Socialist Countries should have left them in no doubt. The channel through which in 1989 the Soviet Party might have intervened to persuade the Hungarian Party to close its borders to East German refugees had simply been abolished.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

9. Adapting to Capitalism Enthusiastically: Central Europe

The history of the first two decades of post-socialist Eastern Europe defies easy categorisation; but it is clear that those decades witnessed dramatic and unparalleled transformations. As Michael Mandelbaum has observed, ‘Making markets where none existed before is an enterprise of daunting scale … [and] has no historical precedent’. Almost as unprecedented is the creation of liberal democracy and market economy ‘by numbers’ that was imposed by the European Union from the late 1990s. The countries of Eastern Europe did not just create capitalism in a new historical setting; they did so according to a detailed and prescriptive agenda imposed by the European Union. Yet it was an agenda that most wholeheartedly adopted. Domestic converts to market economics embraced the market with fundamentalist conviction. For the first decade or so, it seemed as if the historic divide between Central Europe and the Balkans was being re-created. Central European governments, in countries where there had been at least some engagement with social democratic politics before socialism, committed themselves to the principles and practices of liberal democracies and market economies and embarked quickly on privatisation and restructuring.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain

10. Adapting to Capitalism Hesitantly: The Balkans

This chapter continues the accounts of individual paths of post-socialist change which were presented thematically at the beginning of Chapter 9. Bulgaria was the Balkan country where the pendulum model of politics fitted best. But it was also, in the early years, a country where extra-parliamentary politics played a significant role, and where the party system was still reconfiguring itself two decades after system change. The first post-communist government formed by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) did not last long. It was dependent on the Turkish minority party the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (MRF), yet pursued policies which were unpopular and gave the MRF no particular benefit. In particular, laws liquidating agricultural cooperatives and returning land within strictly ‘historic boundaries’ were hugely unpopular in many areas; and they benefited the Turks little because they had owned less land in the past. By October 1992 the MRF had lost patience and was willing to support the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in a vote of no confidence. There followed two years of unstable government by a coalition made up of members of the BSP, the MRF and dissident members of the UDF, which finally collapsed in September 1994.

Geoffrey Swain, Nigel Swain
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